23 August, 2010

Good wine under $15.00

We're back in Spain today with another very crisp white that's perfect for a hot summer might. It's made from the Verdejo grape from the Rueda region. Like Sauvignon Blanc it provides bright citrus notes and a great deal of zippy acid. In fact it is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc.

Here are the wine maker's notes: Bright, lifted nose that could very easily be mistaken kiwi, gooseberry, grapefruit zest, "mineral". But this is riper, deeper. Ditto in the mouth. Great depth of fruit and opposing mineral cut. Another wine with a sugar/acid cage match.

We opened this bottle on a warm mid-week evening to have with grilled chicken. It was a little light for the chicken, but great with the grilled vegetables. Not bad for $10.99 from Costco.


19 August, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Sur Lie

Champagne Mercier Visitor Centre Epernay

First my apologies for being late in posting this week. We've had some issues with our internet and haven't had consistent access. Special thanks to Starbucks for providing free WIFI. Hopefully, this won't last much longer.

Now on to our word of the week. If you ever read a tasting note or the back of a Champagne or Sparkling Wine and seen descriptors of yeasty, biscuity or toasty, this is because the wine has been aged sur lie.

To understand sur lie, you need to understand how Sparkling Wines are made. First, the grapes must be turned into wine through a traditional fermentation process. In order to turn these wines into sparklers, the wine maker adds a bit of solution of wine, sugar and yeast (called liqueur di tirage) to the still wine which is then sealed in either a bottle or a tank. At this time a second fermentation takes place and the resulting CO2 is trapped. After all the sugar has been fermented, the yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle/tank. Here the'll sit for months or years (depending on the wine maker) and add flavors to the now sparkling wine. This act of aging on the dead yeast cells is referred to as sur lie.

And while we're on the subject of sparkling wines, don't wait for special occasions to open these. They are delicious and refreshing and should be considered whenever you want to open a bottle of wine. They are among the most food friendly of wines. In fact, it's my favorite wine to drink with Thanksgiving dinner and I often start with a glass before any dinner I eat out. So start today, open a bottle to "celebrate" the fact that you learned what sur lie means.


12 August, 2010

What happens in the vineyard.

When I sit down to relax with a delicious glass of wine, I don't think I've ever appreciated all the work that goes into making that glass of juice. But how could I since I've never been in the vineyard during growing season. Well here's a video from Jordan in Sonoma that helps put me in the middle of the vineyard and shows some of the hard work that's so important right now. Specifically, leaf pulling. It's incredibly important that the proper amount of sunshine reach the grapes in order for them to ripen. This video shows how much hand work goes into this vineyard step.

Now, Jordon wines do not come cheap. The cabernet sauvignon sells for about $50 and their chardonnay sells for about $30. I think that one of the benefits of this video is that I now understand why wines like this command prices like these. It take a tremendous amount of care and attention to bring in the best possible grapes and it demands a great deal of hand work. A machine could never do this.

Thanks to Jordan for posting this video!


11 August, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Concentration.

(Image via Ivao83's flickr)

 Here's a word you'll sometime see in tasting notes. "Palate exhibits a good concentration of berry flavors." That's fairly self-explanatory, in that you expect the wine to have very deep and full fruit flavors. Concentration in wine is like pixels on your computer screen; you want more pixels, the sharper the the picture and the more detail you can see. In a wine you want more stuff, less water.

But how does concentration happen? Is it just luck or can a wine be manipulated into those concentrated flavors. Turns out, it can be both, but much of it is in the wine makers sights.

First, in the vineyard, vine pruning and selective reduction is crucial. Growers have the difficult task of selectively pruning away fruit early in the season. While this reduction of berries reduces they overall crop yield, the nutrients and sunshine have fewer berries to "feed". This increased energy improves the fruit overall. So while the grower may have fewer grapes to harvest, each one of those grapes as greater potential for producing really great wine.

Secondly, deprive the wine of water. The best grapes are grown under stressful conditions and one of those stressful conditions is low rainfall. While it is true in the most arid regions irrigation is common, the grapes must have some water, after all. But too much water will dilute the flavor of the grapes. Think of it as adding too much water to tea or coffee, the more water, the lower the concentration of coffee flavor. The same is true of grape, especially at harvest. Growers are always watching out for a big rain near harvest. If the grapes are still on the vine during a rain storm all that water will go straight to the grape, plumping them up and eventually diluting the wine.

Lastly, a wine maker can remove water from the grapes or the juice in a variety of methods. You may already be familiar with a couple of the techniques even though you don't know it. In the Veneto region of Italy, grapes are dried after harvest, letting them become raisinated. The dried fruit is then fermented and pressed resulting in Amarone. In Canada, grapes are frozen on the vine, which reduces their water content and then they're processed into ice wine. Water can also be removed from grape juice. Routinely in Australia, grapes become very ripe in the warm sunny conditions. Using a centrifuge, water can be removed from the juice resulting in those inky Shirazs (not to mention high alcohol Shiraz!).

So next time you're tasting a wine, pay special attention to the flavors, do you think they've been concentrated? or are they weak and diluted?


10 August, 2010

Good wines under $15.

Wine's holy grail is a great bottle for around $12. And there is a great deal of wine on the market in this price range. Well, here at Vinthropologie we have decided to take on the task of finding that holy grail (it's a tough job but someone has to do it!) So each week, we'll try to taste at least one bottle of wine that's priced below $15. We'll only profile those that we like since wine and matters of taste are so personal.

Up first, a delicious little number from the south of Spain. It's called Botani and it's made from the Muscat Alexandria grape. Now, this is a grape that I'm sure very few of us have tried. It's traditionally vinified into a sweeter wine but this is vinified dry, meaning that most of the sugar has been converted to alcohol. This wine is also unusual because it comes from an unusual region: Malaga Spain. Málaga is in far southern Spain, on the hot, sunny Costa del Sol, and it made its name on sticky-sweet wines made from raisined grapes. What you don't see from this region is a dry wine, until now. I have to say when I saw this bottle at Costco for $13.99 I was intrigued.

This wine has a pale straw color with aromas of honey, lemon, and tangerine. It's seen a bit of French oak so it's a bit rounder than I expected, yet it is still very refreshing. On the palate you'll taste the honey and the tangerine and also a back note of herbs, although it's not grassy. It does have a slight bitter taste on the finish but that doesn't interfere with the overall crisp and refreshing nature of this wine.

I hope you seek this one out, you'll have fun with it.


03 August, 2010

A glass full of fruit.

(Image via elana's pantry's flickr)

 Last week I wrote a post about becoming a better taster, using the FEW method: Fruit, Earth, and Wood. Each time you taste, you ask yourself "What fruits do I taste? Is there anything earthy here? Do I taste wood?"

Well today I'm going to make the first question a little easier for you. For both red wines and white wines there are groupings of fruits that are more likely to show up in each. By learning these, you'll be able to find more fruit flavors each time you taste wine.

Let's start with white wines. There are 5 fruit types to look for in the aroma and on the palate. They are:

Tree fruit: apples, pears
Citrus: lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, tangerine
Stone fruit: peach, apricot, nectarine
Tropical fruit: Mango, banana, pineapple, papaya
Other: Melon, lychee

There are 3 fruit types for red wines:

Red fruit: strawberry, cherry, raspberry, cranberry
Black fruit: black currant, black raspberry, blackberry, black cherry
Dried fruit: prunes, figs, raisins, dates

And that's it. Don't feel pressured to name specific fruits. Start by trying to identify the fruit category. Once you are able to identify a category, then go a bit deeper. For example, Sauvignon Blancs are dominated by citrus fruits; once you identify it's citrus as yourself if it's grapefruit or lemon (or both!).

To get better a picking out individual fruits, there's only one way to improve your skills. Taste and smell lots of fruits and lots of wine. Smell fruit in the grocery store, you might get a few strange looks, but it's worth it.

Practice makes perfect as the saying goes. Consider it some of the most enjoyable homework you'll ever have.